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Why We Must Believe (Our Formation)

Jose Vilson Mr. Vilson Leave a Comment

“Come on, let’s get this done, I believe in you.”

“Why do you always say that, Mr. Vilson, like …”

“Um, because I believe in you.”

“Oh my God, this is, like, the only class I hear a teacher say that …”

It was a weird moment for me. I promised this school year I would change my vibe. I promised myself that I would be more affirmative, more caring, more relaxed, more forgiving. This worked well until December 1st, when my program changed from 90 students to 145 students with no breathing room. I was asked to redistribute the energy I once gave to 3 classes and push myself towards 5. That put a dent in my spirits that didn’t fully heal until Christmas break.

Because this is often the work of alchemists, those who had to make base metals into gold. Or in this case, disparate learners into scholars of the craft.

One of the ways I make that happen is to constantly instill a belief system. The fallacy, specifically in math classes, is that we have to tell children we don’t believe in them, and that “right is right,” assuming wrong is wrong. That ethos also assumes that we have to offer tough love to get higher achievers. Yet, the people who respond to that tend to be those who already believe in themselves anyways. They don’t think the negations apply to them because their grades say it’s not about them. Therefore, those who do know it’s about them already see themselves as “less than.”

On the other hand, if we tell students we believe in them, the “high achievers” lose nothing, but the “low achievers” gain everything. We allow for mistakes that they learn from. We allow for strong conversations. We allow for children to see themselves as people who are capable of expertise. “I believe in you” is not saying the students are all right when they have something wrong. “I believe in you” is saying that the students have the capacity to make it happen. It dissuades students from looking at me as the source of frustration and flips that relationship where I become an obvious source of support.

More importantly, it allows my room to be a place where students actually want to be.

Few people who interact with me outside of my classroom know this about me, and you need to know this before you interact with me. You need to know that, much the way I invest my energy into my classroom, I invest whatever is left into the plethora of projects I’m involved with. You need to know that, should I have a choice, I’ve already prioritized my family, my students, and then everyone else.

You need to know that my students are asking me to believe in them, and, it’s not in my job description, but it’s now the expectation. Nothing in my classroom works without it.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

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